Doc. 8173

16 July 1998

Linguistic diversification


Committee on Culture and Education

Rapporteur: Mr Jacques Legendre, France, European Democratic Group


While there is no disputing the importance of an international language of communication - nowadays English - in the context of globalisation, its knowledge appears insufficient if Europe is to stand its ground in the face of international economic competition and preserve its cultural diversity.

There should therefore be more variety in modern language teaching in Council of Europe member states, in parallel with the mastery of national, and where appropriate regional, languages.

The report urges member states to promote the development of satisfactory competence in at least two European or world languages for all pupils by the time they leave school. This should also include a better knowledge of the social, economic and cultural realities of the countries where the languages are spoken.

Some of the ways to achieve this goal are bilingual education, better arrangements for language placements, and development of teacher exchange schemes. Modern language learning should be a lifelong activity for those who wish it; partial skills and learning ability should also be recognised.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       Europe’s linguistic diversity is a precious cultural asset that must be preserved and protected.

2.       Beyond the cultural and practical dimensions, a command of foreign languages is a decisive factor in understanding between peoples, tolerance of other communities, be they indigenous or foreign, and peace between nations, as well as being an effective barrier against the return of barbarity in its various guises.

3.       Existing statistics show that a vast majority of pupils in Europe learn English, while other “major” European languages such as French, German, Spanish and Italian lag far behind. Languages which are spoken by hundreds of millions of people in the world, such as Russian, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese, have only a tiny place in school curricula. Moreover, the standard of teaching in these languages is not always satisfactory.

4.       There is no disputing the importance of a lingua franca — nowadays English — in the context of globalisation created by telecommunications, tourism and trade. But a knowledge of English alone, seen as the international language of communication, appears insufficient if Europe is to stand its ground in the face of international economic competition and preserve its cultural diversity.

5.       There should therefore be more variety in modern language teaching in the Council of Europe member states; this should result in the acquisition not only of English but also of other European and world languages by all European citizens, in parallel with the mastery of their own national, and where appropriate regional, language.

6.       The new approach to modern languages in Europe’s education systems should focus on the following principles:

i.       a wider selection of languages to cater for the new needs generated by the development of international exchanges;

ii.       languages of local minorities can be taught if there is sufficient demand;

iii.       the development of satisfactory competence in at least two foreign languages for all pupils by the time they leave school;

iv.       modern language learning could be a lifelong activity;

v.       partial skills and learning ability should be recognised;

vi.       knowledge of the social, economic and cultural realities of the countries where the languages are spoken.

7.       Consequently, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       make linguistic diversification a priority of language policy. In practical terms, the CDCC should conduct, on a regular basis, comparative studies on linguistic diversification in its member countries, to serve as a basis for drawing up European policies on the matter. In order to avoid duplication, these studies should complement the work of the European Union’s Eurydice office. The first study should be carried out within the framework of the conference on language learning policies, scheduled for 1999;

ii.       promote knowledge by students of at least two modern languages by the time they leave school, with study of the second language beginning at secondary level;

iii.       involve the Parliamentary Assembly in the preparation of the European Year of Languages, which the Council for Cultural Co-operation plans to hold in 2001;

iv.       speed up work on “threshold levels”, the Common European Framework of Reference and the European Language Portfolio, and continue expert assistance in drawing up national language policies;

v.       ensure that the work done by the CDCC in the fields of lifelong education and new technologies includes a linguistic dimension.

8.       The Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers invite member states:

i.       to promote the creation of regional language plans, drawn up in collaboration with elected regional representatives and local authorities, with a view to identifying existing linguistic potential and working to develop the teaching of the languages concerned, while taking account of the presence of non-native population groups, twinning arrangements, exchanges and the proximity of foreign countries;

ii.       to develop language co-operation agreements between border regions;

iii.       to promote distance education to make the major European languages accessible to all small schools and colleges and facilitate the development of less commonly taught languages;

iv.       to set up networks of schools and colleges to ensure diversity in the range of languages offered (including minority and less commonly taught languages);

v.       to promote and develop bilingual education and arrangements for pupils to be able to sit school leaving exams wholly or partly in their chosen foreign language;

vi.       to extend arrangements for language placements:

a. making them a compulsory feature of school education,

b. making exclusively public funding the norm,

c. allowing entire classes to participate in exchanges,

d. making them a part of teacher training;

vii.       to encourage member states to make wider use of teachers from other countries, by developing extensive teacher exchange schemes between member states, underpinned by guarantees in relation to teachers' careers and conditions of employment;

viii.       to ensure succession management for teachers of "minority" languages by means of a recruitment plan for each country, drawn up following a study of medium- and long-term requirements;

ix. to prioritise teaching methods geared to developing oral expression, by using audio-visual materials and interactive media, setting up co-operation arrangements with educational television channels and promoting original-language films on television and at the cinema;

x. to promote the creation of audio-visual materials in the different regional languages of each country as well as the publication of newspapers and books in regional languages for the use of the general population;

xi.       to promote a type of education that places greater emphasis on the culture and society of the countries concerned;

xii.       to supervise the setting up and implementation of a licensing system for private language schools, to ensure that the language skills acquired are up to official standards.

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Legendre


Will tomorrow’s Europe be like a new Tower of Babel?

At first sight it would appear yes. Linguistic diversity is one of Europe's greatest assets. More than 50 languages enjoy some form or degree of official recognition, or are used by substantial numbers of people in the 47 countries currently covered by the European Cultural Convention — not counting, for example, the 130 languages recorded in Russia. Innumerable dialects and languages introduced by immigrants from other continents also help to make up this cultural heritage which must be preserved and protected.

Yet languages are disappearing at an alarming rate. Of the 6,500 languages currently spoken in the world, half are thought to be in danger or dying out. Some experts go as far as to predict that more than 90% of all the world’s languages will die out in the next century.1

In Europe the UNESCO Atlas of the world's languages in danger of disappearing sounds the alarm for the Celtic languages of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brittany in France, certain Lappish languages in Scandinavia, various Roma languages and numerous indigenous languages of the former Soviet Union.

It is estimated that in a few years’ time 1.5 billion people – a quarter of the world population – will speak English. And for a vast majority of those people it will be a second or third language (only 400 million will have English as their mother tongue). Three quarters of all mail in the world is now written in English, as is almost 80% of electronic mail on the Internet.2

According to statistics from Eurydice, the information network on education in the European Union, 80% to 90% of students in the 15 member states of the EU learn English, but the figures for other "major" languages such as French, German and Spanish, are well below that level. Languages which are spoken by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, such as Russian, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese, have only a tiny place on school curricula. Moreover, the standard of teaching in these languages is not always satisfactory.

Although no general statistics for the countries of central and eastern Europe are available, the evidence is that the situation there, as regards learning and teaching modern languages, is similar to that in the European Union.

There is no disputing the importance of a lingua franca — nowadays English — in the context of globalisation created by telecommunications, tourism and trade. However, the study of one language should not be at the expense of other national, regional or minority languages, which are equally important in terms of developing and enriching dialogue among the people of Europe.

What determines the choice of language?

There are two conflicting trends affecting languages in today’s world: a move towards uniformity, and the search for identity.

Political and technological progress in recent decades has led to unprecedented freedom of speech. Satellite communications and the Internet have virtually abolished barriers to expression. Economic globalisation has reached a point where companies, linked by the Internet, can work together on opposite sides of the planet, taking advantage of time differences. The development of tourism, mass production and mass culture is all part of a move towards greater uniformity in our means of communication, but also in our basic vector of communication: language.

Meanwhile, in parallel with increasing integration, Europe has witnessed the emergence in recent years of new political and cultural entities. For certain countries this was a natural return to their roots after decades of totalitarian oppression. In these cases reassertion of the people’s newly recovered identity always went hand in hand with a language revival. In other cases, however, language has been used as an instrument of violent nationalism and ethnic dispute.

The globalisation trend has certainly given rise to a new lingua franca. Yet there are no linguistic reasons for this prevalence of English. It is much more complicated in terms of grammar, pronunciation and spelling than Esperanto, which was originally intended but has never become an international means of communication on a large scale.

The lingua franca in fact boils down to a question of power. Latin, the lingua franca of the Middle Ages, was superseded by French and German in certain parts of Europe following military conquests, then by French in the 18th century in the royal courts and amongst the privileged classes. English did not come to the fore until after the Second World War. At the same time, each new lingua franca in history brought with it a measure of democracy, insofar as it became accessible to ever broader sections of the population. English, therefore, owes its expansion to the political and economic power of the United States, as well as to the “global village” created by the new communications technologies, and the democratisation of access to schooling all over the world.

Although English is not the easiest of languages to learn well, linguists consider it to be very flexible and to adapt to different environments by taking in vocabulary from other languages. According to David Crystal, author of the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language, modern-day English incorporates words from 150 other languages.3 The snag is that the more English is spoken by non-native speakers, the more it is “altered” to suit regional needs. Crystal even predicts that it could break up into mutually unintelligible oral forms, as did French and Spanish in relation to Latin. Dictionaries of Asian, Australian, Caribbean and South African English already exist, full of words unfamiliar to Britons or North Americans. He does suggest, however, that a neutral form of English will continue to exist for international purposes.

Important as it is in today’s world to have some command of the most widely used means of communication, it is also necessary to know other languages. Paradoxically, this need seems to be felt less acutely by people whose mother tongue is one of the “major” languages, whereas in small countries, where the national language is not spoken beyond the country's borders, it has always been necessary to speak foreign languages. It comes naturally to the people of such countries to learn one or more languages because they have no other means of access to the wider world. By contrast, large countries, which normally have a wide diversity of linguistic potential, show much less interest in learning the languages of others.

To quote J.L.M. Trim,4 a country is more likely to value learning a second language if:

1. It is internally multilingual (established territorial minorities)

2. It is a small country but not geographically or politically isolated

3. Its neighbours speak a different language

4. Its own language is not widely spoken and not used as a vehicle of international communication

5. Its export/import trade is a higher proportion of GDP

6. Its travel trade is a higher proportion of foreign trade and GDP.

A country is more likely to value proficiency in a particular foreign language highly if that language:

1. Is widely used as a vehicle of international communication

2. Is spoken by a country (or countries) with which there are active relations (interpersonal, industrial, commercial, leisure and entertainment, tourism)

3. Has a positive image because:

a. it is associated with socio-cultural values that are admired

b. it is associated with a way of life to be imitated

4. Is spoken by high-prestige groups.

One of the main problems with language learning is the cost. The European Union, for example, has given official language status to all the languages of its member countries, from the largest to the smallest, based on the principle that you cannot pass laws and take decisions that affect people’s lives unless the people can understand them. And even today, with fifteen member states, “the cost of translation and interpretation, the cost of all the language tools, accounts for one third of the Union’s budget expenditure”, according to Dr Eduard Brackeniers, Director General of the Translation Department of the European Commission. On the occasion of the last enlargement, still according to Dr Brackeniers, more than half the new posts created in the European institutions were language-related posts. With the development of the new technologies, and in particular automatic translation, it should be possible to ease this financial burden somewhat, but this will not eliminate the need to learn foreign languages.

Aims of linguistic diversification

More than ever, a knowledge of foreign languages has become essential to people in the modern world.

It is essential, firstly, in the search for a job, because in future employment will increasingly involve distance working and be knowledge-dependent, in an international environment.

In his article entitled “Language Policy and Planning for Business in Great Britain”, Stephen Hagen notes: “The most recent research carried out on a European scale confirms that proportionally more British companies are losing trading opportunities because of language barriers than their counterparts in other non-English mother-tongue EC countries. Smaller companies face the greatest barriers. In different studies, between 20 percent and 30 percent of U.K. exporting SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises – up to five hundred employees) have reported losing trade for linguistic/cultural reasons”.

According to Hagen, “the reason for these differences is largely historical. Until recently, language study was not connected with any vocational outcomes. English was the only language needed for British trade in the days of the Empire and Commonwealth. Foreign language education traditionally belonged to the humanities, and provision was made purely on diplomatic and geographical grounds. Hence the preponderance of French throughout the school system.”

Beyond this utilitarian aspect, however, language learning has a strong socio-cultural component. In an increasingly uniform world, cultural diversity will become ever more important as a means of preserving human values. Learning a language means learning to be closer to others. Learning a foreign language means equipping oneself with intellectual tools for confronting the real and the unknown, as well as personal enrichment through a knowledge of other cultures and other views of the world. Learning also means combating the ignorance that lies at the root of intolerance and racism.

So foreign language learning should rid itself, once and for all, of its elitist overtones because nowadays it is essential for everyone. It also needs to become much more flexible and responsive to people’s needs, and should never be an end in itself. Foreign language education should combine language learning proper with the sociocultural aspect and reflect as accurately as possible the social, economic and cultural realities of the countries concerned. Foreign language learning should be more heavily geared to the ability to communicate and to use language as a working tool.

We must also realise that for the first time in history, the radical changes taking place in the world around us are no longer about different generations; rather they are occurring within the same generation, sometimes more than once. The school system could never have kept pace with these changes and is certainly not in a position, at present, to anticipate all the shifts that are going to occur in the future. So adult education is equally important as is the development of the ability to “learn to learn”.

In response to this need for further training, the Higher Education and Research Committee, part of the Council of Europe’s Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC), is developing a lifelong education project. The policies devised under this scheme should include a linguistic component.

The Trim classification on choice of foreign languages, referred to above, also provides some useful pointers to the main measures for developing a diversified linguistic policy:

“If a country values foreign languages highly, it will be more likely to:

1. Introduce them earlier in the curriculum

2. Devote more curricular time to them per week, without expecting other subjects to suffer

3. Make them obligatory in general education

4. Continue them for longer in the educational career

5. Require higher achievement in qualifying examinations

6. Make them a component in vocational education

7. Make them a requirement for admission to higher education

8. Make them a component in professional qualifications

9. Raise the status of FL teachers

10. Provide more in-service training for FL teachers

11. Promote educational visits and exchanges on a substantial scale

12. Have a flourishing private sector

13. Feel strong parental pressures and interest

14. Provide facilities in adult education, which are well taken up

15. Provide air time for TV-led FL teaching programmes”

The study of the languages of other countries should not be to the detriment of the study of regional and minority languages as a means of expressing different cultural identities however. Bilingualism in border regions is not only a precious cultural asset but also has a role to play in good-neighbourliness, stability and peace.

A large part of the European continent has been the scene of invasions, immigration and intermarriage. It therefore has natural linguistic reserves constituted by foreign language speakers.

The harnessing of this potential is thus one essential aim of a policy to promote the development of modern languages. In this connection we might envisage drawing up regional linguistic maps, in liaison with regional elected representatives and local authorities. This would make it possible to record the existing linguistic potential and develop the teaching of the languages concerned.

It must not be forgotten either that the learning of a foreign language starts with mastery of the mother tongue.

Main guidelines

Drawing on realities

The question of whether or not to study a foreign language no longer arises – these days, foreign language learning is essential. The focus of the debate has thus shifted to other issues such as: should one introduce a second, or even third, compulsory language in schools, and if so, which, from what age, with what objectives and methods, how best to train teachers, how to fund these studies, etc.

At present, we do not have the necessary statistics to answer these questions for all the member countries of the Council of Europe. A comparative study of existing practice and trends, however, could provide some useful material for formulating suitable policies and improving international co-operation in this area.

The Council of Europe has considerable experience of European co-operation in linguistic matters; its work has paved the way, in practical terms, for the introduction of modern language policies more closely geared to the needs of the various countries (see appendix).

The Eurydice office of the European Union has a database on modern language teaching in EU member states and the countries of central and eastern Europe with which the EU has association agreements.

The CDCC should therefore conduct, on a regular basis comparative studies on linguistic diversification in its member countries to serve as a basis for drawing up European policies in this field. The first study should be conducted within the civil society, scheduled for 1999. This study could bring in important elements for the drafting of a White paper on linguistic policies, following the conference.

The only available study of this kind was carried out by the Swedish government in 1993 and included Germany, England, Austria, Denmark, Scotland, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, Russia and Sweden5. The results are most instructive.

- At the time of the study there were still major differences between these countries in terms of the age at which children begin learning a foreign language, which could vary from 7 to 12 years. The practice of starting at the age of 11 was beginning to change in favour of an earlier introduction. With the exception of the Scandinavian countries where English was the only first foreign language studied, all the other countries offered alternatives, although English remained the most popular choice.

- The range of second and third languages on offer was extensive. The study showed that there was a policy of allowing children to study any foreign language, provided that a sufficient number of pupils requested it and that there were qualified teachers available to teach it.

- The age at which the second language was introduced varies from 12 years in the Netherlands and Germany to 16 years in Russia. The third language was introduced at the age of 13 in the Netherlands and at 16 elsewhere. At the age of 16, language learning normally becomes optional.

- The second foreign language was studied for a shorter period than the first and the amount of time devoted to the third language was enough to provide only a brief introduction. The study showed, however, that the amount of time devoted to language studies did not always correspond to the level of proficiency acquired.

A compulsory second language

One of the five general aims set out by the European Union in its White Paper on education and training, entitled “Teaching and learning: towards the learning society”, is that students should master three Community languages – ie at least two languages in addition to their mother tongue. It is unfortunate that this aim should be restricted to Community languages, leaving no opportunity for the study of languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Russian.

The Council of Europe, as a structure which embraces but is much broader than the European Union, should extend the aim of giving students two foreign languages by the time they leave school to all the countries which are parties to the European Cultural Convention. In a departure from the White Paper policy, however, it should be possible to select the two languages from the full range of world languages, not just those spoken in the Community.

The Council should also bring its language policy into line with that of the European Union as regards practical methods for realising this aim. Language learning should begin at pre-school level and become a systematic element of primary education, with study of a second language beginning at secondary level. Once students reach secondary level they could begin to study certain subjects through a foreign language.

Specification of objectives, evaluation, recognition of skills

Many of the problems which students encounter when learning foreign languages stem from a lack of clearly defined objectives. The methods used by some companies and institutions to assess the linguistic skills of prospective employees are not always very sophisticated and are often overly subjective; the same applies to self-assessment in the case of people wishing to use their knowledge of foreign languages for professional purposes.

All the more reason, then, to encourage the work which the CDCC has been doing for years now in terms of specifying objectives (threshold level) and, more recently, the European reference framework and the European Languages Portfolio (see appendix). The necessary budgets should be made available to apply the “Threshold Level” specifications and, in all European languages and enable the Portfolio to be implemented as quickly as possible.

Lifelong learning

As has already been mentioned, the pace of technological and political change is such that it is becoming impossible for schools to prepare young people for their entire lives. It is becoming increasingly important that schools provide not only knowledge but also the necessary tools to enable people to go on developing this knowledge throughout their lives. To quote an old Indian proverb which still holds good today: do not give the poor fish - give them a fishing rod.

It is thus heartening that the CDCC Conference “Language Learning for a New Europe”, held in Strasbourg in April 1997, should have focused on the importance of incorporating the “learning to learn” aspect in the syllabus.

Vocationally-oriented foreign language teaching should be improved, not only in the form of special language courses, but also as an integral part of general education, to enable young people to grasp the importance of language in the work sphere.

The language aspect should be incorporated in ”second-chance” schools and in the various facilities aimed at helping the unemployed find work.

Finally, alongside governmental, regional, local facilities and schools, one must not forget the role of the private foreign language teaching sector. Firmly established in Western Europe for several decades now, this sector has experienced an unprecedented boom in central and eastern Europe since 1989, often to the detriment of the quality and professionalism of the services on offer. It is important therefore to help these countries introduce a licensing system based on specific criteria, in order to eliminate the risk of malpractice.

Bilingual education

A distinction should be made between two forms of bilingual education: first, bilingual education in bilingual or multilingual regions and, second, using a foreign language to teach another, non-linguistic, subject (eg history, geography).

Bilingual education is often fairly well developed in border regions or areas inhabited by national minorities. It is important, however, to make sure that the provisions of the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities are applied.

Instruction in a regional language should not exempt pupils from learning a language which they can use for international communication, however.

Bilingual and bicultural education should continue throughout the school career. It is very important that it should be conducted in an intercultural spirit, without giving rise to the type of community segregations that engender negative stereotypes, hostility and intolerance. The members of each community should understand and respect the language and culture of the others.

Bilingualism is a factor for tolerance in immigration regions or districts. All immigrants should be able to continue to study their mother tongue, but should also learn the language of the host region or country.

Bilingual instruction in general or vocational education should be strongly encouraged since it is a unique way of developing proficiency in a language as a working tool. It also has the advantage of improving foreign language teaching without increasing the total number of teaching hours per week. Its cultural dimension is also very important.

There is no reason either why bilingual education in a second foreign language should not be introduced, starting from a fairly young age.

The Council of Europe conference on “Language Learning for a New Europe” revealed that several countries have already introduced bilingual education programmes but that so far, only a minority of pupils receive this kind of instruction, which still tends to be elitist. Certain eastern European member states (particularly the Baltic States) seem to favour developing and consolidating traditional methods of modern language teaching. Practical experience has shown that the bilingual programmes could be made more accessible and incorporated into general education provided they were geared to learner needs. Another sine qua non is that there should be a ready supply of well-trained teachers, which is not often the case at present6.

One way of solving this problem is to create the necessary conditions for the recruitment of more native-speaker teachers, by making full use of exchange schemes. Another effective solution is to create networks and involve teachers and pupils in international joint projects.

Some mention ought to be made here of the European network for plurilingual education EuroCLIC (Content and Language Integrated Classrooms), which is part-funded by the European Union. The purpose of this initiative is to bring together practitioners, researchers, teachers, trainers, legislators and other parties involved in additive bilingual programmes. Its aim is to play an active role in the promotion and exchange of information, experience and materials when designing, compiling and implementing courses. Apart from a circular available on the Internet, a Web site has been set up ( which serves as a link and discussion forum between the various European and national organisations involved in developing course content in one or more foreign languages.

The network will be co-ordinated by the European Platform for Dutch Education in co-operation with the University of Jyvaskyla, Uppsala University and SAINT (Swedish Association of Bilingual and Immersion Teachers).

The problem with bilingual education is that school-leaving examinations must be conducted in the mother tongue. Once again, imaginative solutions are called for. Some countries have already introduced arrangements whereby examinations can be sat wholly or partly in the foreign language under a bilingual education scheme. This is precisely the kind of approach that is needed.

Promising experiments for the development of bilingualism

European sections, international sections and certain regional experiments are contributing to the development of multilingualism.

The European sections offer teaching in the language of the section of several basic non-linguistic subjects, and thus permit the instrumentalisation of the language studied. Experience in France has shown that this is a promising formula which, unfortunately, is still too elitist and restricted to the best pupils. A resolute policy initiated by the Ministry of Education was necessary to propagate initiatives that were all too often only local.

The international sections have a different objective, which is to take foreign pupils into national schools in order to facilitate their insertion into the education system and their eventual return to their original education system. At the same time, it permits pupils of the host country to learn a modern foreign language at a high level.

The international sections use French teachers as well as foreign teachers seconded by their home countries who use their own language for specific teaching of the history, geography and literature of the country concerned. They thus appear as a vital actors in international teaching co-operation.

A very good example of multilingualism is given by the Strasbourg school district, in France. The programme is based on the development of German, considered as a regional language, a reference language and the written language for the Alsatian dialects. There are two essential components: extensive teaching of German in the traditional way and bilingual teaching. Its development is part of the State-region contract plan, involving a teacher training and exchange programme, and is based on several European partnerships.

Teacher training

Everything that has just been said about the new challenges facing foreign language teaching and the need for lifelong education applies equally to teacher training. Two points merit special attention, however: the need for first-hand knowledge of the language being taught and the provision of teacher training in a way that encourages linguistic diversification without putting teachers out of work.

As regards the first point, fortunately the days when a school teacher was expected to teach several foreign languages are long gone. For obvious financial reasons, however, it is still by no means the general rule that every teacher must have spent a certain period in the country of the language which they teach. This problem will never be extensively resolved unless there is genuine international co-operation as regards exchanges; therein lies the challenge for the Council of Europe.

The other problem which requires attention is how to ensure a supply of teachers offering as wide a range of languages as possible without endangering the jobs of teachers of less popular languages. One solution would be to ensure succession management for these teachers by means of a recruitment plan, drawn up following a study of medium- and long-term requirements in each country.


School exchanges and language placements have always been one of the best ways of learning other languages and finding out about other countries, helping to improve linguistic skills and cultural knowledge at the same time. They also teach young people valuable lessons in independence and survival away from home.

With the opening up of Europe, these exchanges are becoming easier, but there are still some problems which need to be resolved. Differences in living standards mean that exchanges are not universally affordable, although it is always possible to come to some practical arrangement. Fear of unemployment is also an obstacle to issuing visas to young people wishing to travel from certain eastern European countries to western Europe. All this poses a real challenge, therefore, requiring substantial political will if mobility in Europe is to become a reality.

From a methodological point of view, exchanges should be an integral part of school culture and philosophy. A true “exchange teaching method” should be developed (with preparation and monitoring).

The regional authorities can do a great deal to stimulate exchanges in border regions, where it is even possible to spend the day with pupils on the other side of the border and be home by evening (just such an example involving pupils from Calais and Folkestone was reported recently in the press).

The legal, administrative and social aspect of exchanges also needs to be considered. The development of these practices in schools and the creation of tools designed to facilitate exchanges would perhaps help to reduce the kind of malpractice to which families who use dubious private operators sometimes fall prey.

Other policies

Television is an excellent way of learning foreign languages, not only through language programmes but simply by watching films broadcast in the original version. Whereas in Scandinavian countries or the Netherlands this is part of a deliberate policy, in other countries such as France it is almost impossible, particularly during prime-time, to see films which are not dubbed, except on the arts channel Arte (which has no advertising). While economics are certainly an important factor in such a strategy, there is no denying that it is also a question of mentality.

New technologies could go some way towards remedying this situation. Digital technology will create a number of options, including the possibility of watching the same programmes in several languages. The viewer must also be willing to make the effort to watch television in another language, however.

Other, more fully exploitable options include town twinning and theme days devoted to different countries, including cultural and tourist information, crafts, regional dishes – anything liable to kindle the desire to learn more about other countries, other cultures and, consequently, other languages.

As well as increasing the range of foreign languages on offer, the member states of the Council of Europe should also consider ways of stimulating demand for language learning. Parents are the most obvious target group in this respect.

New technologies

New technologies offer tremendous possibilities, particularly as they become more widely available. It is important to ensure that the Council of Europe’s work in the field of new technologies, identified as a key priority at the Second Summit, should also have a language component.

The idea is not just to develop educational materials, software, etc. New technologies can also facilitate direct contacts, exchanges of information and the setting-up of networks.

Virtual discussion forums on subjects of common interest, for example, are an intercultural and interlinguistic learning tool. Such is the view expressed by Jan Visser, when talking about the mainly French-speaking web site Pangea “run out of the Ecole Active de Malagnou in Geneva, involving the mobilisation of schools of all continents. Children in different parts of the world participate in a programme of intercultural communication, developing knowledge and awareness of their shared global environment, asserting their power of shared control over that environment while using different technologies to communicate with each other. The principle is that each group of students corresponds with two other groups in different parts of the world […] They correspond each in their own language. It is up to the receiving party to find a way to understand the messages received.”7


Both linguistic diversification and linguistic standardisation are conditioned by objective factors. Although these two tendencies would at first appear to be mutually exclusive, in the complex world of today they go hand in hand.

What differentiates them, however, is the degree of awareness of their respective importance. As far as the benefits of being proficient in an international vehicle of communication are concerned, this awareness seems well established. We still have some way to go, however, before people realise that knowledge of other languages is equally important.

Putting the theory into practice is very much a long-term task, involving numerous players, a great deal of theoretical and practical work, a large measure of political will and substantial resources.

Linguistic diversification is impossible, therefore, without greater international co-operation. The Council of Europe is the obvious framework for such co-operation, having had plenty of practice at bringing together the various players in this area for the purpose of exchanging experience and working together.

The European Year of Languages, planned for 2001, would be a perfect opportunity to reaffirm and introduce the principles of linguistic diversification. The Assembly would like all the relevant Council of Europe structures to join forces, as from now, in order to make this initiative a success.


The Council of Europe's language policy

1.       language learning involves everyone, not just a privileged few; it is a universal need and right;

2.       it is a life-long activity, not confined to school years;

3.       language learners, their needs and interests, should take priority, ahead of the wishes of parents or the needs of society.

Linguistic diversification at the Council of Europe

Reporting committee: Committee on Culture and Education.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

Reference to the committee: Doc. 7554 and Reference No. 2135 of 7 November 1996.

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 25 June 1998.

Members of the committee: Lord Russell-Johnston, (Chairman), Mr Probst, Mrs Verspaget, Mr Zingeris (Vice-Chairmen), MM Arnason, Arzilli, Bartumeu Cassany, Bauer, Baumel, Mrs Camilleri, MM Corrao, Cubreacov, de Decker (Alternate: Staes), Diaz de Mera (Alternate: Varela), Dumitrescu, Mrs Fehr, Mrs Fleeetwood, Mrs Fyfe, Mrs Garajova, MM Glotov, Gül, Hadjidemetriou, Hegyi, Mrs Isohookana-Asunmaa, MM Ivanov, Jakic, Jarab (Alternate: Mrs Stepova), Mrs Katseli, MM Kiely, Kofod-Svendsen, Kollwelter, Koucky, Kriedner, Mr Lachat, Mrs Laternser, MM Lazarescu, Legendre, Lemoine (Alternate: Ehrmann), Libicki, Liiv, Mrs Maximus, MM O’Hara, Pereira Marques, Polydoras, Mrs Poptodorova, MM de Puig, Radic, Ragno, Risari, Rockenbauer, Roseta, Mrs Rugate, Mrs Saele, Mrs Schicker, Mrs Stefani, MM Sudarenkov, Symonenko, Tanik, Mrs Terborg, MM Urbanczyk, Vangelov, Verbeek, Mrs Wärnersson, MM Yavorivsky.

NB: The names of those who took part in the vote are in italics.

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul, Ms Kostenko.

1 “Speaking” by James Geary, Time Magazine, 7 July 1997.

2 Idem.

3 “ Sowing the Seeds of Speech”, Time Magazine, 7 July 1997

4 J.L.M. Trim – “Some Factors Influencing National Foreign Language Policymaking in Europe”, Language Planning Around the World: Contexts and Systemic Change, National Foreign Language Center Monograph Series

5 Rune Bergentoft – “Foreign Language Instruction: A Comparative Perspective”, Language Planning Around the World: Contexts and Systemic Change, National Foreign Language Center Monograph Series

6 M. Eike Thürmann – Education Bilingue: la langue étrangère comme moyen d’enseigner des matières non linguistiques, p. 66-67

7 Jan Visser, “Multilingualism In A Pervasive Learning Environment”,